Meaningless Questions: A Quick-Start Guide for Mentors and Instructors

Start Here!

Meaningless Question cards are a powerful tool for engaging curiosity, unlocking creativity, and developing original projects driven by the researcher’s own interests. Try these simple techniques in your classroom today, and raise everyone’s MQ!

ASK

  • DAILY WARM-UP (3-minute exercise): At the beginning of class, share a source, and have the group ask as many meaningless questions about it as possible, without parameters. Then, pull an MQ card and have them ask more questions using that Dimension of Inquiry. Limber up those minds!
  • CROWDSOURCE INSPIRATION (3-minute exercise): Have one student share a source (optional: anonymously), and have everyone MQ it. Harness the brainpower of your research community! (Pro Tip: This is a great way to incentivize student attendance at Office Hours: “Come to Office Hours, and I’ll use your source for an upcoming Daily Warm-Up!”)
  • INTO THE ARCHIVES (45-minute exercise): Have your class take MQ cards into the archives, the lab, or the field, and use them on new sources. Use MQ cards to scale your research mentoring.

ANALYZE

  • CURIOSITY HEAT MAP (10-20-minute exercise): Have students sort their questions by type. Notice any patterns in the questioning? What do I seem to care about most? Describe the pattern you detect.
  • PEER POWER (10-minute exercise): Have students share their questions with one or more classmates, with this prompt: What does this researcher seem to care about? Analyze and clarify, but don’t judge.
  • INSTRUCTOR ANALYTICS (ongoing): Use MQs for attendance, for data-driven insights, and for conversations with individual students. What volume and types of questions are they asking?

ANSWER

  • QUESTIONS ➡️ SOURCES (1-week assignment): Have each student choose one question and find sources to answer it. Model this first by choosing one student question and having everyone help answer it during class.
  • SOURCES ➡️ SENTENCES (1-week assignment): Show how you can use the source to turn a Meaningless Question into an answered question with a citation. Sentence One done—on to the next one!
  • PREPARED CONVERSATIONS (Office Hours exercise): Have students bring their MQ card-inspired writings when they come talk to you about their projects, and get to the heart of what matters to them.

AGAIN!

  • SHUFFLE THE GROUP: Have students use MQ cards in pairs or groups, then change groupings. The result: more sources of inspiration.  
  • SHUFFLE THE DECK: Whenever a researcher is stuck, have them pull a random card and use it with their topic or source. MQ cards—don’t use just one!
  • THE NEXT DIMENSION: Challenge students to come up with new Dimensions of Inquiry and share them with everyone on the blackboard, whiteboard, or class website.